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Why So Serious? An Essay on My Anxiety

Updated on April 2, 2017
Michael Reffold profile image

I am a poet/writer/actor/singer currently working in online medical journal publishing. I have struggled with both anxiety and depression.

Me as Boris Trigorin in an amateur production of "The Seagull" (Garden Suburb Theatre, London, July 2013). Being anxious.
Me as Boris Trigorin in an amateur production of "The Seagull" (Garden Suburb Theatre, London, July 2013). Being anxious. | Source

One thing no one ever says—because it’s blindingly obvious and, on the face of it, unhelpful—is that the best thing to do when you’re teetering on the edge of an enormous gaping pit is to take a step back. Really, people need to say it. And that’s because anxiety—that ugly, clunky four-syllable horror—feels just like teetering on the edge of an enormous gaping pit. It does to me, anyway. I hope you’ll forgive me for speaking in general terms. I’ll forgive myself, if you don’t.

That’s something I’m trying to do more—forgive myself. People often talk about being your own harshest critic. It sounds quite amusing—like you’re going to give your own one-man show a rating out of five stars. In reality, it’s a blight on our society, the job of being your own harshest critic. The pay is crap, the hours are long, and there are no benefits or perks. Some job! So why are there applicants queuing round the block? Because it’s also the easiest job in the world. It’s easy to tell yourself you’re not good enough. That nobody likes you. If they seem to, they’re just pretending. You’re hopeless. A failure. A plague on humanity.

Here’s the truth—the fact you’re worried about these things is almost certainly a sign that they aren’t true. Everyone is liked by someone. Someone who genuinely thinks they’re great. And even if it’s just one person, that’s not nobody. One cheerleader can still make one hell of a noise. You are good at lots of things, some of which you’ve still got to discover. And you’ve got time to discover them, if you stop giving up. As for being a plague on humanity, humanity ain’t all that.

But you are. You are “all that." To reference a great piece of pop culture, you need to stop singing “You Ruined Everything, You Stupid Bitch” and switch to a more upbeat number—“I’m So Good at Yoga” will do. Or “I’m a Good Person”. Even “Sexy French Depression” is an improvement.

We need to laugh. At life. At ourselves. My panic attacks are ridiculous, looking back on them with the smug comfort of hindsight. These things are next level, I’m telling you. I have spent literally hours in tears over nothing. Nothing worth losing that much fluid over, anyway. I can’t get it back, that water, and there’s not exactly a bountiful supply on this planet we call home. Such a waste.

I have performed in one-act melodramas so intense, so moving, the theatre critics of London have to be beaten back from my front door with sticks. They’ve called me the next Olivier. Which is nice, but you should see me in full swing. I’ve got way more emotional honesty up my snotty sleeves than that old hack.

The whole thing is ridiculous. The only problem is, I can’t take a step back from a hole I’m falling into. At the time, the anxiety cloaks everything sensible and real in a thick fog and I lose someone in that fog. Who have I lost? Who’s that, waiting just beyond reach, in a clown’s red nose and oversized shoes? Sorry in advance for any nightmares that image induces. Clowns, I know. But I recognise that clown. That figure of fun, refusing to take this murky scene seriously, is me.

If I saw a film in which the main character threw himself on the floor and wailed at the top of his lungs, I would probably think it was very sad. For a few minutes, at least. But if the scene started going on a bit too long, I’d start to look a little more closely at the shrieking man. I’d probably sneak a glance at my watch and wonder how much longer this was going to last. If the man wasn’t that great an actor, I’d probably begin to find it all somewhat ridiculous. Maybe I’d even start to laugh.

I’m being honest with myself, so here goes – I am not that great an actor. I know I said I was the next Olivier a few paragraphs ago, but come on. So when I cry on the floor for a whole hour, it’s got to be a pretty funny sight. Unconvincing. Messy. Ridiculous.

You should laugh. I’m not advocating going around laughing at depressed people willy-nilly. Bit harsh. But we should try to take a step back when we get like that, and maybe we’ll see the funny side – eventually.

The big thing that brings on my anxiety is fear. Mostly the fear that I’m going to embarrass myself, and that people will think I’m a fool. That they’ll judge me and hate me and make me stand in a corner of the room in a giant dunce’s cap so that they can throw things at my pathetic, worthless body. But what I should be afraid is of publicly embarrassing myself by having a full-on nervous breakdown in a stairwell in the middle of the busy building where I work. That’s a lot scarier. And it actually happened, unlike that cartoon vision of dunce’s caps and rotten tomatoes. It happened yesterday. It was shameful, and drawn-out, and it hurt like hell.

And I’m glad it happened. Because I now see how ridiculous I’m being, when anxiety grabs me and pulls me into the big black hole it calls home.

It’s a story I can tell myself. You went to that place, behaved like an idiot, but (and this is important) you survived. One day I might even laugh about it.

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    • Michael Reffold profile image
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      Michael Reffold 6 months ago from United Kingdom

      Thanks Denise, I did indeed! There was sadly worse to come but I am on the road to recovery so that's a good feeling. Thanks for reading this and glad you found some truth in this.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 6 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      You survived! That is the crux of the matter! When we are having an anxiety attack, that is just it. We don't think that we will survive! We think that we will die, either of embarrassment, or literally that our heart will stop beating, or we will choke to death, or perhaps even that the floor will open up and swallow us whole! Like you said, if we can just take a step back and breathe, and relax, then we will live through it. The wave of anxiety will wash over us and leave us standing there, wondering what just happened.